surveillance culture, office culture.

15 Oct


I do enjoy my work, and the people that I work with. The work that we are doing is important and based in the mission statement: “We promote positive social change through transformative learning and community engagement.” This is a mission statement that I can get behind.

The social culture of my office is very friendly and has no sense of being punitive or surveillance-based. However, the physical work setting is anxiety-producing, depressing, and isolating, largely because of its reliance on cubicles as a spatial organizer. Lizbet Simmons (SFSU), in her essay “The Docile Body in School Space,” turns to Foucault (Discipline and Punish) to describe the disciplinary mechanism of partitioning–“Each individual has his own place; and each place its individual” (M.F. 1979.) The design of the cubicle “dictates a single site for each individual and precludes interactions and organizations that could threaten the chain of command” (Simmons 61).

In the hierarchy of my office, full time staff have offices (with doors even!) while graduate students (who incidentally are not legally allowed to unionize in the state of Maryland), administrative assistants, and yours truly (a “full-time volunteer” working for less than minimum wage) have cubicles. Cubicles remove the possibility for privacy and, at least the way our cubicles are set up, require one to work with ones back (and ones computer screen) facing the pathways through which workers travel through the office, creating a sense of constant surveillance.

In short, the spatial organization of our office reflects the same principles upon which prisons (and schools, which Simmons’s work focuses on) are organized. This raises the question–how effectively can we challenge unjust structures–for example, how can we address inequity in education and the prison industrial complex, when we look so alike?

❤ jb

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